Broadband Labeling.

Why don't we have a public option for broadband Internet? That's what Matt Yglesias wants to know. Several reasons jump to mind. One is that letting government provide Internet service on the infrastructure that cable and telephone companies have built creates unfair competition between government and teleco. Another is that it's too risky and expensive, in many cases, for state and local governments to roll out their own networks in places where there isn't a guarantee that people will pay for high-speed Internet service. But then you realize that those are exactly the arguments Verizon would make against it: So it's worth thinking on more seriously, is a public option for broadband such a crazy idea?

That's an interesting intellectual exercise with long-term potential. But in the shorter term, here's another simpler idea from the realm of health that is totally worth consideration in the broadband debate. The New America Foundation wants for broadband something that looks a lot like the nutrition labels we have on food in the United States. Instead of calorie counts and fiber grams, we get standardized details on upstream and downstream speeds. For those lucky Americans who get to pick amongst multiple broadband providers, a label would help them compare their options. For the too many Americans who only have one choice, a broadband label would let them know if they're getting the bandwidth and uptime they're paying for. It wouldn't be much of a burden on well-behaving ISPs, and it would give customers something concrete to challenge TimeWarner with should their Hulu downloads get janky.

That said, "8Mbps downstream" isn't exactly an intelligible metric for most folks. Maybe it should read more along the lines of "10 iTunes song downloads per minute"?

--Nancy Scola

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